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The War on Drugs and Marijuana Policy Reform Are Anything But Peripheral Issues

by Brad R. Schlesinger, published

To understand why the War on Drugs persists, one has to journey deep inside the prohibitionist mind. During a discussion about marijuana on CNN, talking head LZ Granderson hoped he wasn’t going to have to discuss the issue much in the context of the 2012 election, saying “We have way too many important things to talk about.”

When the host of the segment wondered whether some people would fail to support President Obama based solely on the issue of marijuana, Granderson called those voters idiots, saying, “If you are voting on one single issue, especially one issue that is so peripheral, you are an idiot, I don’t want to mince words here.” He continued, “If you're basing your vote on who's going to be president about whether or not they let you roll up a blunt then you're just an idiot and I hope you don't have the right to vote anyway.”

Over at the Huffington Post, StopTheDrugWar Associate Editor Scott Morgan dispenses with this logic:

"To call it a 'peripheral' issue makes a mockery of the millions of Americans who've had their lives turned upside down by a marijuana arrest. It's an insult to innocent victims of rampant racial profiling brought on biased and brutal drug enforcement practices. It dishonors the memory of the tens of thousands who've lost their lives at the hands of violent cartels to whom we've handed a huge stake in the lucrative American marijuana trade. On a daily basis, the war on marijuana destroys families, ends lives, destabilizes communities and diverts limited resources away from the people who need them and into an endless cycle of drug war devastation. Either that, or it prevents all these horrible things, as its defenders continue to claim. In either case, the question of how we as a society choose to deal with marijuana is more than just a serious issue, it's a matter of life and death. Of course it is. There's no such thing as a multi-billion dollar question that isn't worth asking."

As Morgan states, public opinion for both medical marijuana and full legalization is robust-- especially among independent voters, the pivotal voting block. In fact, support amongst independent voters actually exceeds that of the general population. Polling shows 57% of independent voters support legalizing marijuana, while 79% believe that the federal government should respect state medical marijuana laws. Those politicians wishing to emerge victorious this fall must win over the support of independent voters-- and based on the numbers above, legalizing marijuana seems like a pretty good place to start.

There’s also another flaw in this kind of condescending reasoning typically used to marginalize those pushing drug policy reform. Deciding how to vote based on the issues of marijuana legalization and drug policy reform, contra Granderson’s contention, is not simply focusing on a single issue. Rather, marijuana legalization and the broader drug war is inextricably linked with a basket of other issues: criminal justice and mass incarceration, cartel violence, SWAT raids and militarized police, whittling away of the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties, racism, foreign policy, public health, economics, and state budgets. The uncomfortable truth is that drug policy bleeds into all other aspects of American politics, whether people like Granderson want to acknowledge it or not.

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